The two-time Oscar nominee shares stories and memories with PEOPLE
Robert De Niro is revisiting special moments from his past and sharing moving stories from the present.
Sitting down with PEOPLE, the 80-year-old two-time Oscar winner looks at photos taken over the course of his lifetime: his childhood in New York City, his more memorable roles in films like Taxi Driver and his recent Oscar-nominated turn in Killers of the Flower Moon and his time as a father of seven children.
De Niro, who was raised by painters Robert De Niro Sr. and Virginia Admiral in downtown New York City (they split when he was young) says he had an “okay childhood.”
“I had good memories and others that I suppose like anybody would. I'm glad that I grew up in New York, was raised in New York,” he continues.
De Niro dropped out of high school to pursue performance and studied at renowned Manhattan institutions. In the 1960s, he worked on Off-Broadway productions and began his career in film.
After starring in 1973’s Mean Streets — his first collaboration with Martin Scorsese — De Niro appeared as young Vito Corleone in 1974’s The Godfather Part II. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but wasn’t at the ceremony to collect the prize.
De Niro was shooting the war-romance 1900 in Italy, and he found out he won via phone call. “They called me on a landline in those days,” he says. “I was happy.”
He again worked with Scorsese on the 1976 movie Taxi Driver playing depressed Vietnam War veteran Travis Bickle. He and Scorsese decided to give Bickle a mohawk haircut to fit the character, but there was one problem.
"I was going to shoot The Last Tycoon after, where I needed hair and wavy hair, like Irving Thalberg,” says De Niro, who got Dick Smith, the makeup artist from The Godfather Part II, to create a mohawk cap. "He was a great makeup artist. We did a test and it looked good.”
The actor won his second Oscar playing boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. For the role, De Niro gained 60 pounds. “The weight of course was difficult after the first 15 pounds. It's just work,” he says.
What did he eat? “Just everything,” he continues. “And the doctor was monitoring it — cholesterol and things like that, but it was hard.”
His on-screen wife Vikki was played by a then-unknown model named Cathy Moriarty.
“She was just great for the part,” he says. “I think Joe Pesci told us that he knew of a girl that he'd see in clubs or whatever. And so she came in and she was perfect.” (Indeed, Moriarty was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for portraying the complex character.)
De Niro also discusses his life as a father to Drena, 56, and Raphael, 47 (with his first wife Diahnne Abbott), twins Julian and Aaron, 28 (with ex-girlfriend Toukie Smith) and Elliot, 25, and Helen, 12 (with ex-wife Grace Hightower), and 10-month old Gia, whom he shares with his girlfriend, martial arts instructor Tiffany Chen, 45.
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Of his youngest, whom he welcomed last April, he says, “she’s such an adorable baby. So sweet. [When I] look at her, everything else goes away. So it’s a great joy and relief to just be with her in the moment.”
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